« AnteriorContinuar »
the wicked; there are different degrees of punishment for the one, and of reward for the other; yet still it does not appear that there is
middle or intermediate state between punishment and reward.
The next remark, and which has some affinity to the last, is, that we are to be examined at the bar of our great Judge, not merely as to our exemption from crimes, but as to our performance of good actions; substantial and genuine Christian virtues are expected at our hands. It will not be sufficient for us to plead that we kept ourselves clear from sin; we must show that we have exerted ourselves in the faithful discharge of all those various important duties which the Gospel requires from us.
Lastly, it must be observed, and it is an observation of the utmost importance, and which I wish to impress most forcibly upon your minds, that although charity to our neighbour, and indeed only one branch of that comprehensive duty, viz. liberality to the poor, is here specified, as the only Christian virtue, concerning which inquiry will be made at the day of judgment, yet we must not imagine that this is the only virtue which VOL. II. Q
will be expected from us, and that on this alone will depend our final salvation. Nothing can be more distant from truth, or more dangerous to religion, than this opinion. The fact is, that charity, or love to man in all its extent, being the most eminent of all the evangelical virtues, being that which Christ has made the very badge and discriminating mark of his religion, is here constituted by him the representative of all other virtues; just as faith is, in various passages of Scripture, used to denote and represent the whole Christian religion. Nothing is more common than this sort of figure (called a synecdochè) in profane, as well as sacred writers; by which a part, an essential and important part, is made to stand for the whole. But that neither charity nor any other single virtue can entitle us to eternal life, is clear from the whole tenour of the New Testament, which every where requires universal holiness of life. We are commanded “ to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God* ;" to add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowJedge temperance, and to temperance patience, * Col, iy. 12.
and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity*. Here you see that charity makes only one in that large assemblage of virtues, which are required to constitute the Christian character. And so far is it from being true, that any single virtue will give us admission into the kingdom of heaven, that St. James lays down a directly opposite doctrine, namely, that if we do not to the best of our power cultivate every
virtue without exception, we shall be objects of punishment, instead of reward. “Whosoever," says he, “ shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Nay, even if we endeavour to fulfil all righteousness, yet it is not on that righteousness, but on the merits of our Redeemer, that we must rely for our acceptance with God. For the plain doctrine of Scripture is, that it is " the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanseth us from all sin t;" and that “ by grace we are saved through faith ; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God S.” Of this, indeed, no notice is taken in our Saviour's description of
2 Pet, i, 6.
* 1 John, i. 7.
§ Ephes, ii. 8.
the last judgment, and that for a plain reason, because he had not yet finished the gracious work of our redemption. He had not yet offered himself up upon the cross as a sacrifice, a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. But after that great act of mercy was performed, it is then the uniform language of the sacred writers, “ that we are justified freely by the grace of God, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus *.”
We must therefore collect the terms of our salvation not from any one passage of Scripture, but from the whole tenour of the sacred writings taken together; and if we judge by this rule, which is the only one that can be securely relied upon, we shall find that nothing less than a sincere and lively faith in Christ, producing in us, as far as the infirmity of our nature will allow, universab holiness of life, can ever make our final calling and elec.tion sure.
But thus much we may certainly collect from our Lord's representation of our final judgment, that charity, or love to man,
in the true Scriptural sense of that word, is one of the most essential duties of our religion ; and that to neglect that virtue, above all others, which our Redeemer and our Judge has selected as the peculiar object of his approbation, and as the representative of all the other evangelical virtues, must be peculiarly dangerous, and render us peculiarly unfit to appear at the last day before the great tribunal of Christ.
How soon we may be summoned there no one can tell. The final dissolution of this earthly system may be at a great distance; but, what is the same thing to every moral and religious purpose, death, may be very near. It is at least, even to the youngest of us, uncertain, and in whatever state it overtakes us, in that state will judgment find us; for there is no repentance in the grave; and as we die, so shall we stand before our Almighty Judge. “ Take heed therefore to yourselves, lest at any
time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and so that day come upon you For as a snare shall it come upon